It’s undeniable that the last two years have completely turned the world upside down and changed us all. Suddenly, we were all isolated, stuck inside and couldn’t meet our friends or even family for months at a time. Everything went digital and countries completely closed their borders. Travel was made impossible or extremely difficult. Gone were the days of hopping on a plane, train or just in your car, and going on a quick trip somewhere else (in the U.S. maybe to another state, in Europe, another country within a couple of hours). So, what will the future of travel look like?
I have always been a big traveler since I was a little kid, and I see myself as extremely lucky to have been able to visit many amazing and beautiful places all around the globe. I even studied Tourism Management in my undergrad. Tourism has long been one of the biggest industries in the world, accounting for approximately 10% of the global GDP. Due to the pandemic there has been a drastic decrease in travel. With things slowly getting back to a somewhat normal the question arises whether tourism will go back to the way it was or how it will change in the future.
While travel has many benefits like economic growth for countries, jobs and income for people as well as meeting new people, emerging oneself in different cultures and getting to see the most beautiful places in the world, there are also a few downsides. Pollution due to transportation and emissions and destruction of natural wonders and inflation in big cities due to over-tourism are among these issues.
Thankfully, there is clearly a shift toward a more sustainable life and I think the pandemic has also played a part in this. Consequently, the tourism industry has to adapt. Airlines are trying to become greener (e.g. Etihad’s recent Sustainable flight with 80% fewer single-use plastics, more than 1/3 of the flight powered by sustainable fuels and a 100% carbon offset). The focus of travel also seems to shift to more sustainable accommodations and hotels that have initiatives to protect and preserve the environment.
Domestic travel vs. Long-haul trips
But how will future travel look like post pandemic? Will we still fly as much and go to crowded tourist hotspots? While modes of transportation are changing, airlines are working towards being more sustainable and I don’t think flying will decrease that much. People will always want to see places abroad that are too far to reach by car, train, or other transportation. I do think though that domestic travel will increase a lot. When countries first closed their borders but no lockdowns were yet in place most people I know back home discovered the beauty of my country. They visited cities and places at home that they otherwise would have never seen as they would usually opt for a holiday abroad. I am certain this will be the case for a while as many people are still worried about going to other countries or even stepping on a crowded plane. Traveling to more secluded places and with just a small group instead of e.g. going on a big cruise to major tourism hubs will gain popularity.
I could see long-distance travel becoming more expensive as well. It’s crazy already that you can get flights within Europe for as little as 10–20 bucks, for example. With the entire tourism sector having incurred massive losses during the pandemic, ticket prices for planes and trains will likely rise. Same goes for hotels, especially in tourism hotspots. People who want to travel will pay more, no questions asked. But that also means that travel will not be as accessible anymore. Not everyone will be able to afford certain types of travel.
I also believe that the security measures currently in place while traveling abroad (masks on planes, sanitation, temperature checks etc) will stick around for a while and honestly, I don’t mind. Wearing a mask on a crowded plane is firstly, no big deal and secondly, also healthy. Who hasn’t gotten sick every time they flew somewhere in the past? The little goody-bags you get on planes with hand sanitizer will also stick around for a while. While I hate the waste it produces, it also provides a way to travel safely.
With the world going digital, there has also been in increase in virtual travel. I don’t know what to think of that. On the one hand, it’s a good way to get a glimpse into a place or culture without any damage or risks. On the other hand, it’s not the same than actually being there, feeling and living it in the moment. During lockdowns, it was the only way of escaping to an exotic place for a while. But what is the future for virtual tourism? The sector will grow and I am sure, there are many people who enjoy seeing other places out of the comfort of their own home. For me, it’s a no though.
What will the future of travel look like?
What’s most important for future travel to remain something viable and enjoyable is that we move faster towards a more sustainable type of tourism. If you fly, offset your carbon footprint. If possible, use other modes of transportation. If you can, stay at sustainable accommodations or maybe even with locals. Don’t be wasteful on your trips and be respectful of the place you are visiting. This should be a given but sadly it still isn’t for some people.
I imagine that some of the changes we have seen in the tourism industry over the last 2 years will remain, including stricter health measurements and precautions. Nonetheless, humans are forgetful creatures. When disaster strikes, we tend to stop talking about all the things that need to be different in the future after just a couple of months or even weeks. The pandemic of course had an entirely different dimension, but still, we want to be comfortable and enjoy life. Travel is a big part of this enjoyment. Working in the tourism sector myself, I already see how many people are back at pre-pandemic travel behavior and the tourism industry is picking up where it left off with some minor alterations.
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